ONE HOLIDAY, A HOST
OF CHINESE-AMERICAN DISHES
A series on an inspiring Chinese-American meal that takes the stress out of the holidays with recipes that you can begin days ahead.
Part 1: Roast Turkey, Lotus Wrapped 8 Treasure Rice and Spicy Cranberry Compote.
Part 2: Vegetarian Dry-Fried Green Beans, and Brussels Sprouts with Satay Sauce.*
Part 3: Double Coconut and Ginger Pumpkin Pie, and Triple Coconut Sorbet.
* Story includes links to fava bean pâté, radish pickles, fried sesame rolls and roasted sweet potatoes.
Vegetables are an integral part of just about any Chinese meal. So, to accompany the turkey, risotto and cranberry sauce in the first installment of this series, we will be making two gently spiced vegetable dishes here: dry-fried green beans and Brussels sprouts with satay sauce.
The green bean recipe hails from Sichuan in the central highlands of China, while the Brussels sprouts take their cues from the savory flavors of Chinese satay sauce, or shacha, a zippy fusion of ingredients unique to Chaozhou. This southern city is known for its amazing seafood dishes, as well as for the satay’s unique combination of dried shrimps, chilies, garlic and shallots.
Brussels sprouts, leaf by leaf
Brussels sprouts become an entirely different vegetable when they are prepared the Chinese way. Although not by any means native to China, these Western imports have gradually become more popular in coastal areas like Shanghai. What makes this dish unique is that instead of cooking the sprouts as little hard balls, the cabbage-like leaves are separated and you are left with a sprightly pile. They are much sweeter and crunchier than most other members of the cabbage family.
Blistered beans with ginger
Dry-fried green beans are traditionally given a rich supporting cast of ground pork and dried shrimp, which you certainly can add if you like. But for this Christmas dinner, where a whole spectrum of flavors and textures are already competing for attention, I have toned this classic dish down a bit and made it vegetarian, leaving in only the crunchy Sichuan pickles (or zhacai) and a smattering of relatively mild dried chilies. The beans are given more depth with a handful of fresh black Chinese mushrooms and a healthy dose of chopped ginger. As with most of these side dishes, though, you should feel free to adjust the flavors and heat levels to fit the palates of your diners.
In addition to these two delicious vegetables, four more sides help make this a grand feast: a creamy fava bean pâté appetizer, succulent roasted sweet potatoes, crunchy fresh radish pickles and nutty fried sesame rolls, all of which can be found on my Chinese food blog, Out to Lunch.
Vegetarian Dry-Fried Green Beans
素乾煸四季豆 Su ganbian sijidou
Serves 8 to 12 as a side dish
- Wash and trim the beans. If they are longer than about 4 inches, cut them in half. Dry the beans thoroughly. They can be prepared ahead of time and stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
- Set a large heatproof sieve or colander over a bowl next to the stove. Heat the oil in a wok over medium-high heat until wooden chopsticks inserted in the hot oil are quickly covered with bubbles. Add one of the beans to the oil; it should immediately foam and float. Add a handful of beans to the oil and fry until the beans are blistered and just beginning to brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove the beans to the sieve. Return the oil to the same temperature as before and add another handful of beans. Repeat until all of the beans have been deep-fried. Note: Don’t try to fry too many of the green beans at once, as they will lower the oil’s temperature too much and end up steaming instead of frying. (This step can be done ahead of time, just place the beans in a covered container and refrigerate. Refrigerate the frying oil in a covered jar, as it can be used again.)
- Use scissors to cut the chilies in half; shake out the seeds and discard. Measure out the Sichuan pickles, chop if necessary and rinse to remove any extra salt or seasoning; pat dry with a paper towel. Have the greens and whites of the onions prepared before you start, as well as the ginger and mushrooms. Mix together the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar and sesame oil in a measuring cup. (This step can also be done ahead of time.)
- In a wok over high heat heat about 6 tablespoons of the frying oil until it starts to smoke. Add the chilies and ginger, and stir-fry for a few seconds. Add the mushrooms and the Sichuan pickles, stir-fry for a short while to barely brown the mushrooms, and then toss in the beans and sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the beans and cook very quickly so that they rapidly heat through and absorb the sauce. As soon as most of the sauce has evaporated and the beans are slicked with a lovely sheen, toss them with the onion greens and serve.
Note: Sichuan pickles (zhacai) can be found in most Chinese markets in the refrigerated section, in cans or in vacuum pouches. These pickles appear as either knobby, drab green balls covered with red chili paste or already cleaned and julienned. Use whatever is available and whatever brand you like. If in doubt as to whether what you’ve discovered is actually Sichuan pickle, ask a Chinese person if the characters 榨菜 appear on the package. Omit it from the recipe if the pickle is unavailable.
Brussels Sprouts With Satay Sauce
沙茶菜膽 Shacha caidan
Serves 8 to 12 as a side dish
- Separate the leaves of the Brussels sprouts by cutting off the bottom quarter inch of the stem end to remove the outermost leaves and then coring each sprout so that most of the leaves come off easily; discard the hard centers or use them for something else. Toss out any discolored leaves and retain the rest, storing them unwashed (water can lead to rot) in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. You can do this a couple of days ahead of time.
- Mix together the rice wine, soy sauce and sugar in a small measuring cup and place it next to the stove.
- Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Add the ginger, peppers, garlic and satay sauce, stirring quickly until the sauce starts to dry. Toss in the Brussels sprout leaves and quickly stir-fry. Add the rest of the ingredients as soon as the leaves look slightly wilted. Continue to stir-fry them over high heat until they are barely done, what the Chinese call tuosheng, or “removing the rawness.” Taste, adjust the seasoning and serve immediately.
Note: There are many different brands of Chinese satay sauce out there, but my favorite for years has been Bull Head (Niutou) Barbeque Sauce from Taiwan (see slideshow). Traditional (silver lid), vegetarian (green) and numbing spicy blends (red) are available. These sauces keep for a long time if stored covered in a cool cupboard. Satay probably had its roots in Southeast Asia, sharing the name but not the ingredients of Indochina’s peanut sauce.
Zester Daily contributor Carolyn J. Phillips is a Chinese food wonk and illustrator who has a cookbook to be published by McSweeney’s in 2014. In addition to Zester Daily, you can find her on her blog and as @MadameHuang on Twitter; her food writing can be found in places as disparate as Lucky Peach and Pork Memoirs.